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Dana

Dana joined the iCarol team in 2013 after 12 years of direct service and administrative duties at a blended 2-1-1/crisis intervention/suicide prevention center. As the Communications and Social Media Manager at iCarol, you'll find her presenting Webinars, Tweeting, Blogging, Facebooking, and producing other materials that aid helplines in their work.

New Tools for Finding Follow-ups and Surveys Due

We understand how important the follow-up process is at your helpline. There are many different reasons to follow-up with a help seeker after your initial conversation has ended. Safety planning and ongoing contact with support systems are extremely important for people who are having thoughts of suicide. Or perhaps you’d like to see if the referrals a caller was given were able to help them. Many centers also use a follow-up call as an opportunity to conduct a satisfaction or quality assurance survey.

helpline flowWhatever reason you are following up with a client, our follow-up activity within a call report form makes it easy to schedule these follow-ups. You can collect the important information you’ll need to conduct the follow-up call, not just the person’s name and phone number but important information to preserve confidentiality, like knowing whether or not it’s okay to leave a voicemail, or to say where you’re calling from if a third party answers the phone. Your volunteers can even sign up for an email notification to tell them a follow-up call has been scheduled and assigned to them. There’s also a handy “inbox” on the main calls page where they can quickly navigate to the list of follow-ups that are scheduled.

With our next release we’ll be launching improvements to the pages that list Follow-ups and Surveys due. Those pages, as always, are accessed from the Calls menu. Here are highlights of the changes, which you’ll see soon:

  • New arrows on the top bar let you change the sort order of each column: call report form number, due date, client name, phone worker, assigned to, and subject.
  • To make the date column sortable, that’s now in YYYY/MM/DD format.
  • A new search box lets you more quickly find the call reports you need by typing in a search term.
  • You can still reassign followups, but it looks a little different — the pulldown is gone. Instead, please just click on the “assigned to” name, and then you’ll see the list of names from which you can choose.

We hope this enhancement helps save time in your daily work; making it so you can quickly and efficiently find the information you need when conducting follow-up interactions.

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Celebrating Social Work Month

March is Social Work Month and a great opportunity to appreciate and thank Social Workers everywhere for their tireless dedication to improving the lives of people worldwide. This is a particularly special year for Social Work as the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) celebrates its 60th anniversary.

Many of you working in the helpline industry have a social work background or are certified or licensed social workers, and certainly the work that any helpline does classifies as falling into the category of social work. In honor of Social Work Month, the Oxford University Press has temporarily made available, for free, articles, videos, and more that may be of interest to you.

For more great information on Social Work Month and social work in general, visit NASW’s Social Work Month webpage.

History of Social Workers
Source: SocialWorkDegreeCenter.com

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March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month

According to the National Council for Problem Gambling, over 5 million people in the US meet the criteria for gambling addiction. Over 1 million Canadians are affected by moderate to severe problem gambling.

Availability of gambling is at an all-time high, with gaming expanding rapidly online and via mobile apps. But understanding and recognition of gambling addiction as a real public health concern has not kept up the pace with this rapid expansion. Gambling can not only result in financial ruin or legal problems, but it can also lead to co-occurring disorders, depression and other mental health issues, and even suicide.

March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month and this year’s theme is “Have the Conversation.” NCPG is encouraging that these talks happen among friends, family, and by professionals with their clients. Mental health professionals are urged to screen clients and talk to them about any gambling problems. Friends and family will want to learn the warning signs and talk to their loved ones. NCPG also wants Gambling Operators to take part by offering informational displays and provide training to their staff.

To learn more about problem gambling, check out the infographic below, and visit the National Problem Gambling Month website for more information on how you can participate and offer help to those in need of resources.

national problem gambling awareness month

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A Verified Timesaver

With February nearly over, are you finding you and your team are still working on items from your January to-do list? So much to do, so little time.

Perhaps it’s time to consider shifting to new timesaving workflows. One of the best ones: Automated Resource Verification (ARV). It’s particularly helpful if you have more than a couple hundred resources, and/or your certifications require regular updates.

Benefits copyThis handy tool – a well-integrated add-on to your iCarol system – makes short work of keeping your resource information up to date. Say goodbye to the headaches and time-eaters of the old way of verifying resource information: Endless games of telephone tag, bloated email inboxes, and hours cross-checking resource records to see if they include the latest information.

Check out the time-saving workflow you’d use with this tool:

  • In just a few clicks, create a list of resources that need to be verified, right from your iCarol resource search page. Verification-specific filters, such as “date last verified” can be combined with standard resource search filters to find just the resources you need.

  • Use radio buttons and pull-downs to select options, such as the email address the request will originate from, how to handle parent/child records, which email address to try first in the record, etc. The “visibility settings” area of iCarol lets you designate exactly which resource fields verifiers will and will not see.

  • With one click, have iCarol send verification requests for all resource records in your list. Each email will automatically include your custom message, plus iCarol will drop in a custom link that leads the recipient to information about just their resources.

  • Recipients click that link to view online the resource information you have in your database. They suggest changes to individual fields.

  • In your iCarol system – not in your email inbox, hooray! – you’ll get a prompt when responses have arrived, and you can review them. The fields with suggested changes are highlighted, making it fast and easy to focus on the changes. Feel free to make edits to the suggested information as needed, then click “Save.”

  • Your resource has now been updated and the changes are live in your database.

Clients who use ARV tell us the manpower savings, improved response rate, and greater precision over the process more than makes up for the add-on subscription cost.

If you’d like to find out more about this tool, add it to your subscription, or would like a free trial, please open a support case if you’re a current iCarol client, or if you’re not yet using iCarol. And if you’ve looked at Automated Resource Verification in the past, I invite you to take another look – we’ve added lots of enhancements in the past year.

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Key Differences and Similarities between Instant Messaging and Texting with iCarol

Are you thinking about letting visitors contact you via messaging, but are not sure of the differences between Instant Messaging and Text Messaging? iCarol offers both – here’s a quick review of how each differs in access, convenience, variable cost, and privacy.

Access

Laptop in useInstant Messaging lets visitors click on an iCarol-provided “chat now” button on your website to initiate a session with one of your specialists. Both the visitor and the specialist converse from computer screens, typing messages back and forth to each other.

With Text Messaging, counselors also converse from iCarol computer screens – actually the very same screens they’d use for Instant Messaging – yet visitors participate from their own cell phones, not from a computer screen.

Convenience

We all know that the easier it is to get information or help, the more likely it is a person will ask.

Many of our Instant Messaging clients love having a “Chat Now” button on their website. Not only does it encourage visitors to return repeatedly to their website – who doesn’t want a popular website? – it also offers visitors a handy way of communicating when and where a visitor really needs it.

For example, you could paste the button right next to the screen where visitors search your resource database (another iCarol feature). If the visitor is having trouble finding what they need, help is just a click away.

So Instant Messaging is great for organizations that either have a popular website, or don’t, and appreciate a boost in web traffic while at the same time better serving your community.

Smart Phone  with two thumbs

Text Messaging, on the other hand, offers a convenient way to ask for help when a visitor is not near a computer. Often clients tell us that visitors who text them would not reach out to anyone if a texting service were not available.

For example, maybe a man’s on the bus on the way to work and he’s stressed about paying his utility bill. Or a mom sitting at a park rocking her sleeping toddler needs help finding an after-school program for her first grader. Perhaps a middle-school student plops down on the family couch next to her siblings after a tough day at school fending off bullies. All of these people might reach out for help via texing.

Text Messaging makes help available right from the convenience of a person’s own cell phone. It’s a kind of access that people tend to expect more and more in a world where texting friends, family, companies, banks, etc. is ubiquitous.

Variable Cost

Where the two forms of messaging differ from a variable cost standpoint is in text usage fees. Text Messaging has them, Instant Messaging does not. When you have Text Messaging service, you’ll be billed for usage based on how many thousands of texts you use per month.

In your iCarol system, you’ll always have a running count of texts so you can see your usage level. We won’t cut you off when you reach your billed-for limit; we’ll just make it up on the next bill. As you use more texts, volume discounts kick in. Plus an increased volume helps funders see how popular your service has become.

Your visitors will of course never be charged by iCarol for text usage, but may be charged by their own cell phone provider, depending on their texting plan. There’s a spot in the workflow to add a note to visitors reminding them, and typically our clients like to add such a note as well to wherever they publicize the texting number.

Privacy

Both Text Messaging and Instant Messaging offer a kind of privacy that a voice phone call does not. That is, nobody can overhear a conversation asking for help conducted via either kind of messaging, because it’s all nonverbal.

That’s helpful for a large segment of the population who might not otherwise reach out for help.

It’s an important factor, of course, for those with hearing or speaking issues, and for those who would rather not speak out loud.

Consider the person experiencing domestic violence, or a troubled student who has a hard time getting out of earshot of siblings or dorm-mates. Clients who work with transgender individuals say their visitors are thankful they don’t have to explain why their voice may not match their gender identity. And some people just are naturally more comfortable typing their innermost concerns than voicing them aloud. The privacy that non-verbal communication affords is a hallmark of both Instant Messaging and Text Messaging.

Text Messaging and Instant Messaging differ in other aspects of privacy, though.

Keyboard and screen in useWith Instant Messaging, all the communication is handled within iCarol –the ChatNow button connects directly to your iCarol system. Because it’s a closed system, iCarol can control the traffic entirely, and encrypts messages from the time they leave the keyboard of both the visitor and the specialist. Data saved in your iCarol system is encrypted, too – with the same strict encryption used by financial services institutions.

Data saved in the system for Text Messaging is also encrypted, but unlike with Instant Messaging, text messages aren’t controlled end-to-end by iCarol. Instead, while the messages are in transit over the phone lines, it’s the phone carriers that control the security of that traffic. That is true for any vendor’s text messaging offering. These days, phone carriers of course handle traffic for financial transactions, medical information, plane reservations, billing, etc. so you can determine your own comfort level.

Text Messaging and Instant Messaging can be used Concurrently

Because of the distinct features of each type of messaging, many of iCarol’s clients actually use both.

Call Report Editing copy

That’s easy to do because the specialist workflow is exactly the same — if you learn one type of messaging, you already know the other. Also, both forms of messaging are integrated nicely into your iCarol system – so much so that specialists can, and do, handle both Text Messaging and Instant Messaging sessions concurrently.

If you’d like to learn more about messaging, please join us for a webinar on Messaging, or contact us for more information.

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February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

A youth’s teen years can be such an exciting time in her or his life. Enjoying some independence for the first time, beginning to plan for and think about the future ahead, and of course often this is a time when youth first experience romantic relationships and even love.

Unfortunately this is not a positive experience for all teens. According to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, one in three adolescents is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. According to the organization Break the Cycle, teens that experience abuse in a relationship are more likely to abuse drugs, drop out of school, engage in high-risk sexual behavior, act violently and even attempt suicide. The repercussions of such dating experiences as a teen can unfortunately follow them into adulthood as well, as without the proper support and intervention they typically find it difficult to change those abusive patterns as they become adults, and thus are more likely to continue to experience abuse in their adult relationships.

It’s important that we spread awareness of the issue, as lack of awareness is contributing to the prevalence of the problem. According to one study, 81% of parents say that they don’t think teen dating violence is an issue or they admit they don’t know if it’s an issue. And only one third of teens who experience this type of relationship ever tell a trusted adult about it. It’s up to us to recognize the signs and engage youth on the topic.

Check out the infographic below for even more about teen dating violence, as well as these great sources of information so that members of your community can learn more about Teen Dating Violence and how to prevent it:

About Teen Dating Violence Month

Love Is Respect

Break the Cycle

Speak Out Against Teen Dating Violence
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iCarol Webinar: Enhancement Review and Future Plans

Webinars w gray

We’re committed to providing excellent communication about iCarol capabilities, updates, and planned enhancements on regular basis. So, we’d like to invite you to join us for our quarterly review of recent enhancements, as well as a peek at what’s ahead, in a 30-minute webinar this Thursday.

In this fast-paced webinar, we’ll go over the newest ways you can streamline your day with new tools sprinkled throughout iCarol. Hosted by Shelley, our product manager, this is part of a quarterly “new feature review” series. We hope you’ll join us for this webinar on February 5th at 1pm EST.

In this webinar we’ll go over:

  • Quick refresher on 2014 new feature highlights
  • Review recently launched new features
  • Enhancements coming soon
  • How to keep up with new enhancements
  • How you can impact new feature development

Remember, if you’re an Administrator in iCarol, in your Dashboard view, you can also view enhancements and changes in the “Announcements, Tips, and Tricks” and “Release History and Future Plans” sections, but these webinars will go a little further to explain the new features, and allow time for your questions.

We think this webinar will be most beneficial and interesting to current iCarol clients who are Program Managers or Directors and use iCarol at an Administrator security level, or those who are considering subscribing to iCarol. That said, all are welcome to attend. We hope you’ll join us on February 5!

Click here to Register

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What we took away from NOMORE.org’s ad

The famous pro-football championship game that aired last night (honestly, it’s unclear whether we’re allowed to use the trademarked name in our blog, so let’s err on the side of caution, shall we? 🙂 ) is arguably watched for its commercials just as much as it is for the game itself. As usual, this year’s game produced a number of ads that are generating lots of conversation, both good and bad. It was a great year for ads that focused on social awareness. For instance the “Make it Happy” ads by Coca Cola advocate for positivity in response to bullying on the internet and social media. The “Like a Girl” ad reminds society to stop using that phrase as an insult. And after a year of controversy surrounding the NFL’s handling of domestic violence, there were ads tackling that topic as well.

Last week the organization NOMORE.org released a very powerful ad, which was also shown during the game. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out below.

This is easily one of the most compelling, important tv spots I’ve seen in a long time. When I first watched it I felt sad, scared, and anxious as I listened to the exchange between the woman and the 9-1-1 operator. It’s one thing to understand what domestic violence is, but it’s quite another thing to hear the call for help.*

There are several messages I took away from the commercial. How isolating domestic violence is, for instance. Or how resourceful and resilient survivors of domestic violence are. But for me the most resounding message came at the end of the ad with the text on the screen: “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.”

Finding the strength to speak up can be difficult. Finding someone who can listen, who can read between the lines if necessary in order to help — that’s even harder. And we know that helpline workers use their expert skills to do this with clients every day, not just when it comes to domestic violence, but in identifying child abuse, or thoughts of suicide. You’re able to weed through their words, to pick up on the slightest hint of what’s below the surface, and uncover the deeper issue.

But there are lots of times when a verbal conversation just isn’t possible at all. The woman portrayed in the ad was able to make an excuse to use the phone, and cleverly found a way to call for help without her abuser realizing it. There’s a reason why efforts are underway to enable texting to 9-1-1. Local law enforcement and emergency services are recognizing that in some situations, a phone call is dangerous or impossible.

More and more, help seekers reach out via chat or text instead of a phone call, too. Sometimes because of personal preference, and sometimes because silence is necessary. The instance shown in the ad is just one example; certainly chat or text has been used by those affected by domestic violence to reach out for online emotional support, or even receive emergency rescue during a violent incident. But there are other scenarios where this might be needed, and they may not all be as dire as the call in the commercial.

Think of the teen who wants to discreetly discuss his sexuality without risking a parent or sibling listening in on the conversation. Or the young woman at a party who is feeling anxious and upset, but can’t verbalize that to the friends she’s with and doesn’t want others to overhear. A child may have just been bullied in the hallway at school, and they find it much easier to hop on a library computer for a chat session than it is to make a phone call.

There are plenty of instances where someone needs to talk, but they can’t say the words outloud. It’s important that we be there to listen through the channels the help seekers want to use.

* While the call in the commercial feels very real, it is actually a re-enactment of a real call to 9-1-1

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Just Your Type

Internal Chat copyIf you haven’t had a chance to check out the new Internal Chat feature, please consider giving it a try. We launched it a couple of weeks ago, and have been hearing how it’s helping centers get rid of passing paper notes, avoid putting callers on hold, fosters a greater sense of community, and just helps day-to-day communications.

Bottom line, it’s a convenient new way to exchange short, typed messages with colleagues, right from the security of your iCarol screens.

It’s available at no extra cost now, to all subscribers. For more information on how to turn it on and enable staff, and other functions, check out the help videos for more information, or register for our February 4th webinar.

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When Wintry Weather Wreaks Havoc on your Helpline

blizzard

With a blizzard moving up the north east coast today and tomorrow, many helplines in its path are brainstorming ways to keep their services up and running. Snowy and icy conditions can spell trouble for seamless shift coverage. How do you keep your hotline operating in spite of dangerous travel conditions for your volunteers and staff?

Depending on the severity of the storm, you may have no special plan at all except to tell workers they are expected to be there for their shift or find a substitute to cover for them. In many snow storms, travel is possible so long as precautions are taken, such as driving at slower speeds and being extra vigilant. Call centers in urban settings may also benefit from having volunteers living within walking distance or taking public transportation.

But sometimes travel conditions can become extremely hazardous or even impossible. What then? Here are some methods we’ve commonly seen:

  • The show must go on – Shifts go on as scheduled no matter what. Workers who realize they can’t make it in must give ample notice and find substitutes who are able to travel. If all else fails, the task falls to an essential staff of supervisors or managers to keep things running.

  • Transfer your calls – In some instances there may be a partner agency, satellite office of your program, or a back-up center in an area unaffected or less affected by the weather, and they can take the calls for a period of time. Our Call Report form sharing functionality makes it easy for you to pass your calls on to other centers, while they use your preferred call report form to log the calls they’re taking on your behalf.

  • Work from home – Technology has made it easier than ever to turn any setting into a call center, even your worker’s home. Calls could get forwarded to that worker’s personal phone or a phone loaned to them from the office. Using iCarol, chats or texts can be taken from virtually anywhere as well. Special tip for iCarol users who might employ this method: You must either turn off ‘Restriction’ (the feature that makes it so your workers can’t see call reports from a personal computer outside the office) or give your worker permissions to install the iCarol Certification Tool on their computer. You can read more about this here.

  • Camping out – Marshmallows optional. When the forecast calls for dangerous weather and snow accumulations that might make travel impossible, make a decision ahead of time to suspend the usual schedule, and instead have a crew arrive prior to hazardous road conditions developing. This crew will stay for a period of time until travel is safe again and shifts can resume. You’ll need sufficient kitchen and bathroom facilities, and workers should bring food. If this goes on for longer than the typical shift length, your crew can set up their own internal shifts of who works and who gets a break. By following the weather and traffic reports, the Director can decide when it’s time for normal shifts to resume.

Do you handle scheduling in wintry weather some other way? We’d love to hear about it! Leave us a comment!

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